Help me figure out how to get through my wife's medical leave
February 7, 2020 10:13 AM   Subscribe

My wife needs to take medical leave from her stressful job because of chronic and worsening health issues and a concussion. She's the income-earner right now, so we need help with some financial planning.

My wife has a host of medical problems. Chronic pain from loose joints and a head-on collision a little over a decade ago, bipolar disorder, and ADHD make many activities more draining for her. She also gets migraine headaches and fibromyalgia with a number of triggers, including overstimulation from bright lights, too much noise, and crowds. She’s been working a stressful tech job with a long transit commute, which has seemed to exacerbate both the previous problems until she was at the point where going to the office wiped her out before she could even do any work and she thought she needed to work from home full time and was fighting with her employer to get more home days. And then got a concussion in November. She hasn't been able to recover well and her work just kept getting more stressful the whole last year. Several weeks ago she started an unpaid FMLA leave.

I have my own chronic health stuff including my own mental illnesses that's made it hard for me to get a job (will address this more in a future question I hope) and I spend a lot of time taking both of us to appointments etc. We don't eat well because I’m such a bad cook that cooking a healthy meal and cleaning up after is almost inevitably at least a three hour process. We're both stressed. Our furniture is largely bad and non-ergonomic, which is contributing to our pain problems as well. We’ve replaced some (which I’m worried is not working out) and are replacing a little more, but it’s all been money we couldn’t really afford to spend, we just couldn’t not spend it at this point either. We have some support, but mostly from people who don’t grok mental illness well. We’re barely afloat financially.

The finances are most important right now. I need advice on the following:

-We looked some at mortgage forbearance, but it seemed like we would need to pay everything we missed the month the forbearance ends, which isn’t actually very helpful. If I’m incorrect about this would like some easier to understand information regarding forbearance.
-My wife starts work again on March 11th. We have most of our February bills paid but I don’t know how March is going to go if she doesn’t get a full paycheck until she’s worked for two weeks again. I’m not sure how much savings my wife has but I am pretty sure it’s mostly for taxes. We are pretty sure we need to take some sort of loan out, almost definitely from a credit union. My major question here: should we be vague about why we want the loan, or should we be frank about our situation? I don’t know if that’ll help or actively hurt or not really matter. Our credit is quite good though it’s probably getting gradually worse.
-I would happily take any other advice regarding FMLA leave, whether applying for disability for one or both of us would be advisable, or anything else that seems relevant to our situation.
-I'm very worried about what we'll do if she's not feeling recovered enough to work by the 11th. Even if I can find a job I simply don't have the earning power currently to pay our mortgage and bills. I was supposed to fix that this last year but my own health conditions made that functionally impossible.
posted by Caduceus to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I've been struggling to write this for weeks, and my hand pain isn't going to let me type much more today. That'll be another question though. I have no idea if this is enough detail. I'll answer what I can if it'll help.
posted by Caduceus at 10:14 AM on February 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am assuming that you already looked into short term and long term disability options with your wife's employer? Most large companies offer some kind of disability pay as % of salary. You didn't mention it so I didn't know if you already checked and isn't an option or you have it but finances are still very stretched. If she hasn't asked, HR would be the place to start.
posted by metahawk at 10:48 AM on February 7, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I think you need to look at your wife's benefits to see if she qualifies for short term disability as it relates to her job, and apply for it if so, to get some income. You didn't bring this up, but many jobs have short-term disability as a benefit that runs concurrently with FMLA. She might not have known this, but it's not too late to start the application process if she has it.

It really stuck out at me the way you frame some of the speedbumps you've faced in your path to health: that you can't eat well because cooking is hard and takes a long time, and that your physical pain exacerbated by all your furniture being bad. The mention of this makes me think that you both probably have some underlying mental health comorbidities like depression. Based on the location in your profile, I wonder if your next step to navigating all these concerning and competing problems would be intake at your local crisis mental health center, such as Multnomah County Crisis Intervention, NAMI Multnomah, or William Temple. What does this have to do with your finances? Well, in many cases, if you go through an intake process, case workers can connect you to resources that only they have access to through referrals, such as no-cost crisis financial planners, social work case managers, ombudsmen who can help you navigate bureaucracy at financial and other institutions so you are not borrowing from your future at unpayable interest rate. They can answer your questions about whether it is prudent to apply for long-term disability, and if so, how to apply. They can direct you to doctors who offer low or no-cost diagnostic tests for qualifying for disability.

You are correct that morgage forebearance means that you will have to pay for everything you missed once the forebearance ends.
posted by juniperesque at 10:52 AM on February 7, 2020 [13 favorites]

Even if you can't work enough to fully cover the mortgage and bills for the household, could you earn something in order to reduce the losses? It would objectively help and might make you feel less panicked.

Can your wife manage any job-searching during part of her leave? Sounds like she has high earning potential and it would be worth trying to find a better situation rather than planning to return to the same place.
posted by Bebo at 10:52 AM on February 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I nth making inquiries about employer-sponsored disability insurance. Does your area have a website or office that helps folks find financial resources? (E.g., Low-income resources in Boston, CommonHelp in Virginia)

I’m not sure how much savings my wife has but I am pretty sure it’s mostly for taxes

Your wife needs to tell you how much she has in savings, and what (if anything) it's earmarked for. Your finances are intertwined; you need (and deserve) to know exactly what resources your household has.
posted by shb at 10:55 AM on February 7, 2020 [9 favorites]

If you're unable to have a job, is there a reason you wouldn't apply for SSDI?
posted by gideonfrog at 12:25 PM on February 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

If your wife's work benefits don't solve your problems, it might make financial sense to ask the IRS for a hardship-based deferral on your income taxes to use your wife's savings to catch up on immediate bills (assuming that's what you meant by taxes).
The people at the IRS are surprisingly friendly and helpful with this stuff.
posted by shaademaan at 1:53 PM on February 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you may benefit from getting a variety of lawyers (MeFi Wiki).

You can find out more about the SSDI process (MeFi Wiki) for both you and your wife from an attorney with a practice that focuses on SSI/SSDI (NOSSCR). Your local legal aid may also be able to make referrals to local attorneys who handle these types of cases, which you do not need to pay for up front, because they are contingency fee (MeFi Wiki) arrangements. SSDI also permits part-time work while receiving benefits, and attorneys in your jurisdiction can explain the process as it applies to your situations.

For FMLA and similar state law protections, you may want to obtain legal advice (MeFi Wiki), including about whether the ADA offers any additional protections and rights to reasonable accommodations in the workplace.

For your mortgage issues, you may want to try contacting your local legal aid organization (MeFi Wiki), to find out if they can provide assistance or referrals for your disability-impacted housing situation.

As to the IRS, you may be able to request a payment plan ( for taxes owed, without the assistance of an attorney.
posted by katra at 3:37 PM on February 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This may be hard to accept, but in the short term, you need to start thinking of yourself in need of temporary emergency assistance to get you through March. You might want to try the OregonHelps prescreener, which could help you figure out what assistance programs you might be eligible for. But, for real, you are in a situation where you should not be spending any cash for anything you might get for free or at reduced cost because you don't think you're the intended demographic for, e.g., food banks. You have no income right now, and won't for two months, and maybe more. You are the right demo. You want to hoard that cash.

This is tricky, but some banks offer forbearances whereby you make up the payment missed through somewhat larger payments in several payment periods going forwards. You need to be super-ultra-clear that that is what your bank is doing, though. They should be able to show you the payment schedule (e.g., "for six months, your payment will be normal payment + 200, then it will revert to normal payment"). This will cost you a bit extra in interest, but if it's really a question of only a month's payment being missed, then it might be manageable.

A credit union loan should be cheaper than using a credit card for most expenses. (It will be substantially more expensive than the kind of forbearance I just discussed.) The underwriting process should be based on family income and outstanding debts, not on "what you want it for." I can't predict how that process will go for you. It may also not be fast enough to meet your needs. However, there can be little harm in asking at a reputable credit union.

I'm sorry you're having such a difficult time of it.
posted by praemunire at 10:28 PM on February 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Can’t pay the IRS what you owe in taxes? This is the one thing you should do. (WaPo)
Make the IRS your first stop so that you don’t fall prey to a scam. Because, contrary to the claims on the commercials promising quick relief, private companies are not likely to get your tax debt reduced to pennies on the dollar. [...]

If you’re still too scared to call the IRS, go online to set up a payment agreement. Search for “Payment Plan” at, and you’ll be directed to the online application to pay off your balance over time. A long-term payment plan is available to those who owe $50,000 or less in combined tax, penalties and interest. You can set up a monthly payment agreement for up to 72 months.

You can also apply for what’s called an “Offer in Compromise” or OIC. This program is intended to help people who are so financially strapped that it’s unlikely the agency could collect all that the government is owed.

An OIC allows you to settle your tax debt for less than the full amount owed. Search for “OIC” and then use the pre-qualifier tool to check your eligibility. “It’s quicker, it’s more efficient and it’s less intrusive for Americans to go online to and resolve their tax liability all by themselves without any interaction with the IRS and a person having to wait on the phone if they owe $50,000 or less,” Guillot said.
posted by katra at 4:08 PM on February 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for your responses.

-We have looked into employer-based short and long-term disability. My wife believes she doesn't have anything like that. Or rather, long-term disability is available after 6 months, but that's untenable.

-Yes, we have mental health issues. I originally wrote a short memoir about all our problems, and then pared down to what seemed most important as best I could with LobsterMitten's input. Maybe too much. I've only just started getting treated for mine in the last 6-9 months (the ADHD diagnosis is a few months older than the bipolar). Hers are long-standing but relatively well-controlled, though in between her mental and physical problems she can't do much in the way of household labor.

-I do not have a reason not to apply for SSDI other than assuming I don't qualify and not really realizing I should probably look into it. I will do so.

-I definitely need to get part-time work, but I think I'm going to need to ask a separate question about that.

-I will look at all these links, they are largely to things I didn't really existed and didn't come up with my bad Googling. I probably should have checked the wiki sooner. Thank you.
posted by Caduceus at 11:44 AM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

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